Everything you need to know about getting a vaccine from now

Today marks a major milestone in Australia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout as the biggest cohort so far in the population becomes eligible for their first and second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

If you’re a Victorian, here’s everything you need to know about vaccines available today.

Who can get it?

Leigh Henningham gives the thumb’s up at the mass vaccination site at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.Credit:Joe Armao

Before today, only Australians in category 1a and 1b were able to get vaccinated. That included quarantine and border workers, healthcare staff, those working in aged care and disability care settings, aged care and disability care residents, household contacts of quarantine and border workers, all people over age 70, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years and over and any adults with an underlying medical condition or significant disability.

From today, vaccines are now available across the country to cohort 2a, which includes anyone aged 50 or over regardless of their employment or medical conditions, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults aged between 18 and 49 years old, and any other critical or high-risk workers of any age.

Which vaccine will I get?

The federal government has recently changed its vaccination scheme based on advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation last month to recommend the Pfizer vaccine be prioritised for those under 50 years of age.

Health authorities are prioritising the patchy supply of Pfizer vaccines for healthcare workers under the age of 50 for now. Much of the available Pfizer vaccine supply had been used on aged care residents and staff.

What it means is that most people who became eligible for vaccination on Monday will only be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine until more Pfizer, or a different vaccine, becomes available at a later date.

Is AstraZeneca safe?

In people 50 years and over, ATAGI advises that the benefit of vaccination with AstraZeneca COVID vaccine outweighs the very small risks of a rare clotting condition associated with vaccination.

If you are under 50 and are eligible for a vaccine because of your work or background, you can still receive the AstraZeneca vaccine if you wish, but the decision should be discussed with your treating GP.

Where can I get it?

There are now 22 locations taking bookings or walk-in appointments to deliver vaccines in Victoria.

A line-up outside the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, one of the mass-vaccination hubs in Victoria.Credit:Joe Armao

Among the 22 sites are six mass-vaccination hubs – at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (or “Jeff’s shed”) at Southbank, the former Ford factory in Geelong, the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton, the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, Sunshine Hospital and the Mercure Hotel in Ballarat. From Tuesday a seventh mass site will open at Cranbourne Turf Club.

Most people will be able to quickly book in and receive their shots at the mass vaccine hubs along with some general practice respiratory clinics.

A federal health spokesman said last week general practices that have sufficient doses available may choose to vaccinate those aged over 50 earlier than May 17, but GPs should prioritise patients in phases 1a and 1b.

The table below shows the clinics taking walk-ins, but the government has advised bookings are preferable for all sites.

Where do I book?

Phone bookings are encouraged at all the sites by calling 1800 675 398, and selecting option 3, option 2, option 2.

Only after your first appointment will you be able to book in for your second dose.

Are all sites up and running?

A spokeswoman for the Health Department said all publicised locations were fully functional on Monday morning, but some sites such as Box Hill Hospital were very busy.

“If a site is at capacity then people with bookings will be prioritised – that’s why we always strongly encourage people to book ahead – they can call 1800 675 398 to book,” she said.

How many doses do I need?

Both the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine require two doses for the highest protection from serious illness from COVID-19.

The AstraZeneca vaccine doses should be given three months apart, while those receiving Pfizer vaccines must wait three weeks between doses.

Is there any cost?

All vaccines in Australia are free for Australian citizens, permanent residents, refugees and those seeking asylum, as well as those on temporary visas such as working migrants or international students.

How long will it take?

Those with a booked slot will be seen quickly, but there are still a number of steps you need to go through at your appointment including checking in via QR code, filling out a questionnaire, receiving paperwork, having a nurse talk you through what to expect and checking your personal information and waiting at least 15 minutes after your shot before you are able to leave. Those who arrive early for their appointment should be comfortably in and out in under an hour.

The Victorian government is posting wait times for walk-in sites, which on Monday ranged from 10 minutes to one hour.​

What should I expect after my dose?

Possible side-effects after receiving an AstraZeneca vaccine are similar to those you may get after a regular flu vaccine. Two-thirds of people get some side-effect symptoms such as headaches, nausea, muscle pain, a fever or chills or tenderness where the injection went in.

Less common side-effects afterward can be dizziness, decreased appetite, enlarged lymph nodes or stomach pain.

According to health authorities, these side effects are usually mild, and go away within a day or two. Some people will experience more serious flu-like symptoms, which are more common in the first dose than the second. Read more about rare side effects here.

For more information about the locations and vaccines visit coronavirus.vic.gov.au/vaccine.

With Isabella Podwinski and Melissa Cunningham

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